For several years I chased a recipe for pure watermelon wine. I finally obtained one, but after making the wine I discarded it. It simply was an inferior wine by itself. It lacked body and was terribly thin. Further, the watermelon flavor, which is what I expected and wanted, did not survive fermentation very well. The taste was bland and very tired. It tasted similar to a soft drink that has gone flat. No--the soft drink would still taste better. The wine was such a disappointment that I refused to even share the recipe.
Then I tasted Paul Hanson's Watermelon Wine. It was heavenly. After repeated requests for the recipe, he finally confided that he had lifted it from a book entitled Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine, but added, "You have to start with a really good-tasting watermelon." I thanked him and made a note to obtain the book. I never saw it anywhere, and searches in several libraries proved futile. Not knowing who the author was or the publisher or the publication date, I couldn't even order it through inter-library loan services. Then one day I spotted it on eBay.com and obtained it for less than my maximum bid. There, on page 24, was the recipe I sought. You'll find it below with minor changes.
I now know the recipe I started with was not the sole culprit and my earlier bias against pure watermelon wine was mistaken. Most likely I had used a poor-quality watermelon in the making of my earlier wine and had thinned it out with too little juice and too much water. When I compare the earlier recipe with the one from Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine (by Norma Jean and Carole Darden, New York: Doubleday and Company and Fawcett Crest Books, 1978 and 1980 respectively), there are only minor differences, but the major one is the use of 100% watermelon juice.
Between my first and second batches of watermelon wine, a period encompassing a number of years, I concentrated on recipes that complimented what I perceived were inherent weaknesses of "pure" watermelon wine with the addition of another fruit to give the wine body and additional flavor. These recipes produce incredible wines and certainly belong in every winemaker's recipe book.
I've included several such recipes below, including several never published anywhere before. Among them is my wife's favorite -- Watermelon-Mustang Grape Wine -- and my own personal favorite -- Watermelon-Dandelion Wine. These recipes should not be ignored. I believe each can be improved by increasing the volume of pure watermelon juice to the point where no water is used for topping up. Exactly how much that would require for each recipe has not yet been worked out, but someday....
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Watermelon-Mustang Grape Wine is one of my most recent, although unplanned, creations. I was making Mustang Grape Wine and transferred the juice from the primary to a 6.5 gallon secondary, ending up with 1.5 quarts of juice left over. Not wanting it to go to waste, I poured it into a clean 1-gallon jug and looked for something to go with it. I opened the refrigerator and spotted a half of a large watermelon. I squeezed pieces of it through a funnel into the jug until I had almost a gallon of liquid. I checked the specific gravity, added sugar, and installed an airlock. I topped up in a few days and racked twice until bottling time, 8 months later. This wine was so good at bottling that I knew it would never age a year. This is now my wife's favorite wine and I'm making a larger (3-gallon) batch.
I know most of my readers don't live in Mustang Grape country, and so will never know what this exquisite wine tastes like. But if you live in the United States or Canada, there are most likely wild grapes growing not too far from you. Use them and make your own type of Watermelon-*Wild Grape* Wine. Your wild grapes may not be as acidic as Mustang Grapes, so add acid blend if needed. You'll also have to check the specific gravity and adjust the amount of added sugar accordingly. When you bottle it, write to me and tell me what you made, how you made it, and what it tastes like. I'll publish any recipes I can understand and that you say are worth passing on. Our native grapes beckon us to experiment, and what better way than to use them to fortify watermelon wine. I'd think that Concord, Niagara, Catawba, Mars, and many other cultivars with native grape ancestry would also make an excellent watermelon-grape wine. So the challenge is there for those adventurous enough to accept it.
Two last warnings. First, watermelon juice has a tendency to spoil and will do so before the wine reaches a preservative level of alcohol unless you use a very fast yeast--like Montrachet. One way to reduce spoilage is to put the primary in a refrigerator while waiting that initial 24 hours for the Campden to work, then make up a yeast starter to add to the must at the appropriate time. I myself have had batches spoil on me, so take precautions. Second, there are all levels of sweetness among watermelons. When I first used the recipe below for pure watermelon wine, it only took 5 pounds of sugar to reach 13% potential alcohol--way short of the 7-1/2 pounds suggested in the recipe. Another user only added 4½ pounds of sugar and ended up with a 14% alcohol wine. So press the juice from all the watermelons you're going to use and mix the juices well. Then float a hydrometer in it and use a hydrometer chart to determine exactly how much sugar you really need to add. Indeed, you should do this with all recipes where pressed juice is used.
And now, the recipes....
Extract the juice from two or three large watermelons (2 gallons 3 quarts total juice), discarding pulp. Ideally, you'd like to end up with 2-3/4 gallons of pure juice. Measure 2 gal and 1 qt juice and put in primary. Set aside any residual juice in qt bottle(s) and store it in the refrigerator. To the primary add 7 lbs sugar [NOTE the warning at the end of the introduction, above, and determine exactly how much sugar your juice really needs], the acid blend and yeast nutrient and stir well to dissolve. Stir in crushed Campden tablets and cover primary with sterile cloth. Set aside 24 hours and sprinkle Champagne yeast on top of juice. When fermentation is evident, stir juice daily for seven days. Add remaining sugar [if needed] and stir to dissolve. Recover primary and set aside another 7 days without further stirring. Rack into 3-gallon secondary and fit airlock without topping up. Set aside for 10 days, top up with retained juice in refrigerator and set aside another 3 months. Drink or discard juice in refrigerator. Rack again and bottle if clear. If not clear, top up and refit airlock until crystal clear. Rack into bottles and age one year. [Adapted from Norma Jean and Carole Darden's Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine]
Extract the juice from watermelon and peaches, saving pulp. Boil pulp in one quart water for 1/2 hour then strain and add water to extracted juice. Allow to cool to lukewarm then add all ingredients except yeast to primary for a total of one gallon. Cover well with cloth and add yeast after 24 hours. Stir daily for 1 week and strain off raisins. Let stand additional 24 hours and rack. Pour into secondary fermentation vessel, fit airlock, and set aside for 4 weeks. Rack and set aside another 4 weeks, then rack again. Allow to clear, then rack final time and bottle. Allow 2 to 4 months before tasting. [Passed-on recipe, source unknown]
Extract and measure the juice of 1 large watermelon, placing 3 quarts in primary and the rest in a covered bottle in the refrigerator. Trim stems off strawberries, chop coarsely, mix in thinly grated rind of lemon, and tie inside nylon straining bag. In primary, squeeze strawberries and leave bag in juice. Add sugar, lemon juice and yeast nutrient and stir well to dissolve. Add crushed Campden tablet, cover primary and wait 12 hours. Stir in pectic enzyme, recover and wait another 12 hours. Add wine yeast and recover, stirring daily for 7 days. Squeeze strawberries gently to extract juice and discard pulp. Pour liquid into secondary and fit airlock. After fermentation dies down (5-7 days) top up with reserved watermelon juice in refrigerator. Ferment 30 days and rack into clean secondary, topping up with water or watermelon juice (only if fresh). Refit airlock and set aside until crystal clear. Rack into bottles and age 3-6 months. [Author's recipe]
Extract the juice from watermelon and apricots, saving pulp of both fruit. Pick out watermelon seeds and apricot stones from pulp. Boil pulp in one quart water for 1/2 hour then strain and add strained water to extracted juice. Allow to cool to lukewarm then add juice of lemon and orange and water to total one gallon and all other ingredients except yeast to primary fermentation vessel. Cover well with cloth and set aside 24 hours. Add yeast and recover. Stir daily for 1 week and strain off raisins. Let stand additional 24 hours and rack. Pour into secondary fermentation vessel, fit airlock, and set aside for 4 weeks. Rack and set aside another 4 weeks, then rack again. Allow to clear, then rack final time and bottle. Allow 6 months before tasting, but improves with age. [Author's recipe]
Cut the rind off of melon, cut melon into one-inch cubes, remove loose seeds, and put melon and any free juice in primary. Thinly grate the yellow rind off two lemons, then juice the lemons and add the juice and zest (gratings) to primary. Add dried elderberries, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Add water if required to make up 1 gallon. Stir in sugar and stir well to dissolve. Cover primary with cloth, wait 12 hours and add wine yeast. Cover and ferment 3 days, stirring twice daily. Strain juice into secondary and fit airlock. Ferment 30 days and rack, topping up with water into which 1/3 cup sugar has been disolved. Add one crushed Campden tablet, refit airlock, and rack every 30 days for 6 months. Stabilize (1/4 tsp potassium sorbate and another crushed Campden tablet) about 10 days before bottling. Allow to age at least 6 months in bottles, but improves with additional age. [Author's recipe]
Pick 500-600 dandelion flowers during late morning when fully open. Pluck petals, discarding all greenery from flowers and stems. Put petals in crock or bowl and pour 1 quart boiling water over them. Cover and allow to seep 3 days. Strain through nylon straining bag and set liquid aside. Extract the juice from watermelon. In primary, mix watermelon juice, dandelion flower-water, citrus juice, and enough water (if required) to raise total to 1 gallon. Add all other ingredients except yeast to primary fermentation vessel and stir well to dissolve sugar. Cover with cloth and set aside 24 hours. Add yeast, stir daily for 7-10 days and strain off raisins. Let stand additional 24 hours and rack. Pour into secondary fermentation vessel, fit airlock, and set aside for 4 weeks. Rack and set aside another 4 weeks, then rack again. Allow to clear, then rack final time and bottle. This is for a dry wine, but you may stabilize and sweeten to taste before bottling if you must. Allow to age one year. This is a delicate yet refreshing dry wine you'll want to save for very special occasions. It will store well for about 3 years, then deteriorate due to the absence of tannin. [Author's recipe]
Peel and thinly slice two very ripe bananas into 2 cups water. Bring water to boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Turn off heat, skim off scum and strain water into primary. Add pulp of two very ripe persimmons to primary, cover with plastic wrap and allow to cool. Extract the juice from watermelon, discarding squeezed pulp. Add watermelon juice, chopped (or minced) raisins, sugar, acid blend, pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient and enough water to raise total volume to 1 gallon to primary. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Cover primary, wait 12 hours and add yeast. Stir daily for 7-10 days and strain off raisins and persimmon pulp. Let stand additional 24 hours and rack. Pour into secondary fermentation vessel, fit airlock, and set aside for 4 weeks. Rack, top up and set aside another 4 weeks, then rack again. Allow to clear, then rack again and age under airlock 4-6 months. Stabilize, wait 10 days, rack final time, sweeten to taste, and bottle. This wine must age an additional 6 months, but will take on a sherry-like quality if allowed to age a year. [Author's recipe]
Cut the rind off of melon, cut melon into one-inch cubes, remove loose seeds, and put melon and any free juice in primary. Thinly grate the yellow off two lemons, juice the lemons, and add the juice and zest (gratings) to primary. Separately, wash, destem, and crush the grapes well in a bowl. Add grapes and grape juice and crushed Campden tablet to primary. Add water if required to make up 3-3/4 quarts. Add sugar and stir well to dissolve. Cover primary with cloth, wait 12 hours and add pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. After additional 12 hours add wine yeast. Cover and ferment 5-7 days, stirring daily. Strain juice into secondary through nylon straining bag, squeezing grapes hard to extract all juice. Fit airlock and ferment 30 days. Rack, top up, refit airlock, and repeat 30 days later. After additional 60 days, rack, top up, and stabilize (add 1/4 tsp potassium sorbate and another crushed Campden tablet). Wait 10 days, rack, sweeten to taste and bottle. Allow to age in bottles one year. [Author's recipe]
Cut the rind off of melon, cut melon into one-inch cubes, remove loose seeds, and put melon and any free juice in primary. Thinly grate the yellow off two lemons, juice the lemons, and add the juice and zest (gratings) to primary. Add grape concentrate and crushed Campden tablet to primary. Add water to make up 3-3/4 quarts total liquid. Add sugar and stir well to dissolve. Cover primary with cloth, wait 24 hours and add yeast and yeast nutrient. Cover and ferment 5-7 days, stirring daily. Siphon off sediments into secondary, fit airlock and ferment 30 days. Rack, top up, refit airlock, and repeat 30 days later. After additional 60 days, rack, top up, and stabilize (add 1/4 tsp potassium sorbate and another crushed Campden tablet). Wait 10 days, rack, sweeten to taste and bottle. Allow to age in bottles 3 months to one year. [Author's recipe]
Cut up meat of 2 or 3 watermelons, removing loose seeds. Put watermelon in nylon straining bag and squeeze vigorously to extract juice. Discard pulp and measure juice. Destem, wash and crush (or chop) mustang grapes, being careful not to crush or chop seeds. Put grapes and any free-flowing juice in primary with 2 gallons and 1 qt of watermelon juice (store leftover juice in bottle in refrigerator). Measure Specific Gravity and add enough sugar to achieve 1.095 minimum. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Stir in crushed Campden tablets, cover primary with cloth and set aside 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient and wait additional 12 hours. Add wine yeast, cover and ferment 7-8 days, stirring daily and "punching down" the cap. Strain juice into secondary through nylon straining bag, squeezing (or pressing) grapes hard to extract all juice from grapes. Fit airlock and when fermentation dies down (5-7 days) top up with reserved watermelon juice and ferment 30 days. Rack, top up, refit airlock, and repeat 30 days later. After additional 4-6 months, rack into bottles. Allow to age in bottles 3-6 months. [Author's recipe]
My thanks to all who have asked for watermelon wine recipes. I hope you will forgive my former refusal to give out a recipe for what I thought was an inferior wine. We live and learn....